Virgin Galactic celebrates another major landmark

Feathered mode - as explained by Virgin Galactic
Feathered mode - as explained by Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic's space tourism service is another giant leap closer, with the VSS Enterprise landing safely following a successful flight in 'feathered' mode.

Feathered mode is a term used to describe the position of the spaceship's tail – with a badminton shuttlecock the inspiration for a 'radical' safety feature which will be used on Virgin Galactic's ships.

"VSS Enterprise has landed safely after a successful first flight in "feathered" mode. A major milestone for Virgin Galactic." tweeted Virgin Galactic.

Dangerous re-entry

Feathered mode is used when the spaceship comes back into the atmosphere from the vacuum of space, a particularly dangerous part of the entire flight.

"Burt Rutan was determined to find a failsafe solution which remained true to Scaled Composite's philosophy of safety through simplicity," explains Virgin Media.

"His inspiration for what is known as the feathered re-entry was the humble shuttlecock, which like SpaceShipTwo relies on aerodynamic design and laws of physics to control speed and altitude."

Essentially the tail position is adjusted which creates a high drag as the spaceship descends through then upper atmosphere.

Virgin describes the mode as highly stable – and states that feather mode allows for a 'hands free' re-entry capability.

Significantly, it is described by the Branson company as a 'major milestone' and that means we are even closer to being able to buy a ticket to ride in space.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.